Jill Brown, owner of Brown (2940 Ferndale), a home-décor store that specializes European and American goods, grew up a long way from Houston. She has been here since 1980, but is originally from a small farm community in Ohio. With her rural roots, it's easy to see where Brown gets her passion for the rustic wares in the store.
"If you ever want to go to a county fair that is a true county fair, go to the Great Darke County Fair," Brown says. "I love all of that agricultural stuff, and that might be where I am most comfortable."
Recently Brown visited with us to discuss her inspiration for the store, travel, the items she can't seem to keep on the shelves and even her occasional buying blunders.
What did you do before becoming a shop owner?
I started being a shopkeeper in Houston in 2001. I was living in Belgium with my late husband, Foster, and my two sons (Sam and John) before that. While in Belgium I scoured that country and the north of France looking for antiques and brocante. That was way before web portals and GPS systems, so I like to think that I paid for my education.
After college, I worked as a department store buyer for a few major stores. That was back in the time when buyers made buying decisions and it was very creative and filled with excitement. I was fortunate to be able to make European buying trips in my early 20s.
When and why did you open Brown?
I opened Brown either six or seven years ago. It was a bit of a grief project. My husband, with whom I had grown up, passed away suddenly in 2003. I could not remember who I was before Foster. I wanted to show my boys that our lives had changed and that we had to go on.
What was the original concept for the store?
The original concept of the store was to sell those heartfelt items that I would import from Europe. Belgium was like my second home. I opened with all of that Belgian stuff before some people, and I am not kidding, did not know what or where Belgium was. They wanted something to be from France. I always wanted to sell products that are timeless and a bit different.
Has it evolved over time?
Brown is always evolving. I still focus on lights because that is where my passion lies. I mix the European products with American goods because I grew up with American primitive antiques and I have a special place in my heart for all of that. I try to buy more and more American products. We have a lot of handmade products that come from small American makers. I have added a lot of gift items and I have, in the past, done unique seasonal goods.
I get tired of products quickly, so some of that little stuff is just to keep us interested. I carry cards that I like. I hand select everything in the shop. It will always be one person's point of view, for better or worse. There is a lot of worse. I make a bunch of mistakes. I give loads of product to Goodwill.
What do you do in your spare time?
I like to travel. We just came back from three weeks in Paris, London and Brussels. The boys and I closed the shop and took off. I think that I better not do that again. People thought that we were closing for good.
I would never close for good without a big blowout party. I love to plan parties for the shop, so I like to dream those up. I am itching to go on another trip, but need to sit still.
I love music so I am always listening to music. When I am asked if I like the beach or the mountains, I would say neither. I like cities because I am always scouting for colors and concepts.
Aside from Brown, what are some of your regular home-design store haunts?
One of my favorite shops is Merci in Paris. When I would visit Sam in Philly we would blast out to Terrain. That is so special. I could hardly wait to get there.
I think that BHLDN is amazing. I would say that the Urban Outfitters team is the best group of merchants currently working in the U.S. I spend a lot of time at Turner Hardware on Hempstead Highway. That is my favorite store in Houston.
Do you currently have a favorite item at Brown?
That would be like deciding between Sam and John. I have some stuff stashed away in the garage for a farm house that I am going to build near Bellville. There are some favorites in that little stash. I am attracted to the highly personal and the eccentric. My favorites are more eccentric than most of the goods in my shop.
What is the hot item at the store right now?
We have some wonderful American candles that our customers love.
Those candles and our one-of-a kind lights are our best selling items. I think that my clients come to us looking for stuff they cannot find other places.